The Coptic Makanouti clan of the village of al-Ula in Amreya south west Alexandris has denied rumours circulated by the Muslim Houti clan that any ‘conciliation’ had been reached between them. ‘Conciliation’ is a traditional out-of court settlement that once reached cancels legal rights; the practice is common in rural Egypt, and is frequently used in disputes between Muslims and Copts to force the Copts into relinquishing their rights in exchange for social peace or under veiled or outright threats.
In the recent dispute in Amreya, the Makanoutis were attempting to regain a 10-feddan plot of agricultural land which they own and which the Houtis had seized in 2012 during the heyday of the lawlessness and Islamist rule which followed the 2011 Arab Spring in Egypt. In 2013 the Makanoutis got a court order that the land was theirs and should be handed over to them. The police attempted twice to execute this court order, the second time was some four weeks ago, but was not able to in face of the armed resistance by the Houtis who used their women and children as human shields. They turned the dispute into a sectarian issue and attacked the Copts in the village, who kept to their homes in fear. When the Houti young man Mahmoud Rawaq Eissa was killed in the clashes with the police, the Houtis blamed his death on the Copts and refused to accept formal condolences, meaning they were bent on vendetta. At the same time they threatened they would kill the Makanoutis if they did not leave the village. [http://en.wataninet.com/coptic-affairs-coptic-affairs/sectarian/amreya-copts-threatened-leave-or-well-kill-you/14729/]
Earlier this month, an attempt was made by the local politician and prominent member of the Deifallah clan, Abdel-Moniem Ragheb aka Sedaawi Ragheb to establish a four-month truce between the disputing clans, during which none of them would set foot on the seized land. The Makanoutis agreed, even though this meant they could not cross over to the local church of Mar-Girgis (St Geroge) which lies at the other end of their land. They said then that they would be praying at a nearby village, but still demanded that the police would execute the court order and hand their land back to them. The Houtis for their part did not sign the truce.
A few days ago the Houtis and the local Salafi sheikh Sherif al- Hawari—Amreya is a Salafi stronghold, Salafis being radical Muslims who apply an ultraconservative version of Islam—circulated on Facebook that conciliation was achieved with the Makanoutis. The claimed a session had been held at the Houti home for that purpose, and that Sheikh Sherif al-Hawari, head of the local Salafi Daawa (Salafi Call), had presided over it. The local priest Father Boctor Hanna had participated, they said, and it was agreed to resort to Islamic sharia to resolve the dispute.
“Our family knows nothing of any session at the Houtis’,” Nessim al-Makanouti told Watani. “To date, the Houtis have refused to sign the conciliatory truce.” Mr Makanouti insisted that the ‘conciliation’ allegation was but a manoeuvre by the Houtis and Sheikh Hawari. He said that Sheikh Hawari talked Fr Boctor into going to the Houtis to offer condolences for the death in the family, but that no conciliation could have been reached since the Church had from Day One said it had nothing to do with the dispute.
A furious Mr Rashid al-Makanouti denounced Sheikh Hawari’s call to resort to Islamic sharia to resolve the matter. Sheikh Hawari, Mr Makanouti said, had attempted to do so three years ago but failed. “At the time we willingly cooperated with him on that score, hoping to get back our land and attain peace. When his efforts did not work, we took the case to court which ruled in our favour. We still have, however, the papers signed by Sheikh Hawari and sealed by the Salafi Call confirming our right to the land. At the time,” Mr Makanouti said, “the Houtis failed to bring up any legal proof of ownership to the land; not surprisingly since we owned it.”
Fr Boctor, for his part, said he had visited the Houtis for the sole purpose of offering condolences, that he was not entitled to talk about the land under dispute and had nothing to do with it. The matter, he said, has already been settled in court.
The eight-family, 45-member Makanouti clan keep to their homes to avoid clashing with the Houtis or their supporters. The children are sent to school by school bus. Their being homebound “is no way to live”, the Makanoutis say, demanding that the police should restore to them their rightful land.
17 October 2015